Options abound to fund Pennsylvania roads

By Keith Goble
state legislative editor


As Pennsylvania lawmakers continue to cuss and discuss options for boosting the state’s transportation budget, a leading Republican lawmaker has offered a legislative package. It is intended to provide a shot in the arm as the state tries to find the estimated $3.5 billion a year to meet road funding needs.

The state is forced to cope with less money available for transportation work after the Federal Highway Administration earlier this year rejected the state’s application to toll Interstate 80. As a result, various funding methods continue to be tossed around by lawmakers.

Time is running out to get a funding package passed quickly. If the General Assembly cannot reach agreement before they wrap up their work later this month, a solution likely would be delayed until as early as next summer.

Rep. Rick Geist of Altoona, minority chairman of the state House Transportation Committee, isn’t giving up. He has introduced an 11-point plan to counter the state’s transportation funding crisis.

The bill package includes partnering with private groups to complete projects; authorizing the commonwealth to apply for permission to toll portions of Interstate 95; granting more local responsibility for transit projects; and phasing out expenditures for the motor license fund to the State Police budget.

The GOP plan unveiled by Geist was introduced shortly after Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, revealed his proposal to address the funding crunch. The Democratic plan relies on levying an 8 percent oil company profits tax; increasing the oil franchise tax; and boosting about 60 driver’s license, registration and vehicle fees.

As some Pennsylvania lawmakers scrambled to plug gaping holes in the transportation budget, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce said, “It is vital that the state first take steps to ensure the revenue already coming in is used for its intended purpose.

“It starts with a responsible use of the resources they already have.”

With a new governor taking office in January and a new General Assembly poised to get to work, some lawmakers want to hold off on addressing any long-term solutions until next year.

But Geist said lawmakers cannot afford to wait to solve this issue.

 “Rebuilding an aging and deteriorating transportation infrastructure in Pennsylvania has to be priority one, and now is the time to act,” Geist said in a statement. LL